A COUPLE OF PELICANS CIRCLE in the air over Baffin Bay as the roar of a Chevy 454 engine fills the morning. Bart Ballard, a research scientist at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, at Texas A&M-Kingsville, hands me a pair of noise-reducing earmuffs as I step aboard his airboat.
"SQUEEZE HIS NOSE," SAYS DOUG BAUM, a.k.a. the Camel Man, pointing at Gobi, one of three camels kneeling by a big trailer in the campground at Monahans Sandhills State Park, thirty miles southwest of Odessa.
ON A MILD SATURDAY AFTERNOON in January, I'm riding my bicycle along the Clear Fork of the Trinity River just southwest of downtown Fort Worth. It's an easy ride through a primarily urban landscape, and the river itself is mostly tame—it gambols sedately over man-made stone dams and between broad sloping levee walls. Still, there are a number of hints pointing to the natural setting that once existed here.
IF YOU'VE NEVER BEEN FLY-FISHING before, maybe the first thing that comes to mind is Brad Pitt standing in a sun-drenched Montana trout stream in A River Runs Through It. That movie, an adaptation of Norman MacLean's classic angling novella, formed the misguided impression for most Americans that fly-fishing is a romantic pursuit exclusive to the Rocky Mountains. But what you probably don't know is that here in Texas, we have our own world-class fly-fishing, though you're not likely to encounter Brad Pitt.
IT'S JUST BEFORE SIX ON a Saturday morning in August, and I'm a little dismayed to be stuck in traffic in Port Aransas, waiting with my friend for the ferry in a long line of serious trucks piled high with fishing gear. On the other side of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, Bill Harvey, a fishery biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, is waiting for us by the Crab Man Marina with a trailerload of kayaks.
NO ONE HAS EVER ACCUSED the city of Port Arthur of being cute or mistaken it for a vacation paradise. It is home to one of the largest oil refinery and petrochemical complexes on earth, a place where rusting inventories of offshore oil rigs are stacked alongside hulking tankers and where tank farms disappear into gumbo swamps. At night the plants look unearthly: a science-fiction writer's nightmare of a prison colony on the outer moons of Jupiter. This is not a place that beckons to the casual tourist.
AH, THE CHALLENGE OF RUNNING WHITE-WATER RAPIDS, of dipping a fly in swift streams rife with rainbow and brown trout, the exhilaration of being in a wild place when there's a chill in the air: These are a few of my favorite things. Every summer, I pine for the Rockies or somewhere else in the great American West. But over the past couple of years, I've discovered that I don't have to wait until June or travel a thousand miles to be on a great Western river.